Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and point of views of current Arts students around campus. Get to know our creative and passionate students through their “voices” and get a snapshot of life as an Arts undergrad. The views and opinions expressed within these student voices posts are solely those of the author.
I’ve been asking people what my latest Student Voices blog entry should be about. They keep saying, “You should write about ‘Clown!’” which annoys me because what I really wanted was to be handed a ready-made blog entry that I could regurgitate. Also, I am a clown neophyte, and I’m not sure that my own 700 word response could possibly overcome the prejudice a lot of people have against clowns. (Thanks Stephen King.)
My class is currently doing a six week physical comedy course with Professor Mike Kennard, a man I am convinced — despite his relative tallness — is the reincarnation of Yoda. For instance, Mike is bald like the late Jedi Master. COINCIDENCE? I think not. Likewise, Mike speaks in wise and seemingly unfair truisms. (Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Mike: “What is trying? Not doing.”) And while Yoda whacks students and droids with his cane, Mike gets his students to hit each other with pool noodles.
You walk to the water bottle without opening your eyes. You just have to rely on the impulses of your body to take you there.
It’ll be a few weeks into the course before we even touch a red nose. Instead, right now, we play games and do exercises, which I try to explain later to my father with hilarious results.
All of Jedi Master Mike’s clown exercises sound simple, impossible, or both. For instance, we spent a week doing an exercise called “Walking to the Water Bottle.” You stand in a corner of a large room. Jedi Master Mike places a water bottle somewhere on the floor. You walk to the water bottle without opening your eyes. You just have to rely on the impulses of your body to take you there.
This is how it came to pass that I was wandering around a dance studio two weeks ago with my eyes closed, banging into walls while a tall, bald man demanded, “Have you asked your body to take you to the water bottle?” Engineering students don’t have to put up with this!
I gritted my teeth. The tall, bald man asked me if I was having fun. (Strange thing about Clown — it doesn’t work unless you’re having fun. You can be throwing a tantrum or sobbing, but on some level you have to enjoy it.)
I had murderous thoughts.
I enjoyed having those murderous thoughts.
I thought, “Body, please take me to the water bottle.”
Thirty seconds later, I felt an instinct, took a step to the left, knelt down and put my hands on the water bottle.
I’m not a clown yet, but I may be a Jedi.
This is the first lesson in Clown: listen to your impulses. It sounds simple, but it’s incredibly difficult. From the time we start learning social skills, we learn to monitor, edit, ignore and suppress our impulses. In some way we have to retrain our bodies and minds to be children again. And we have to “unlearn” the lesson that an uncontrolled impulse will lead to embarrassment.
This is the first lesson in Clown: listen to your impulses. It sounds simple, but it’s incredibly difficult.
People are content to cut arts funding because what we do is unquantifiable. We spend our time doing things that sound absolutely weird — with results that are most magical when they are most inexplicable. Maybe science can explain how an open heart can guide your body to a water bottle. I don’t know. Here is what I do know, or think I know, after five weeks of clowning with Mike Kennard:
You are ready to listen to other people when you’ve learned to listen to yourself.
You can only connect by revealing.
You can only succeed by risking failure.
Fear is not a weakness.
Cockiness is not a strength.
Your body knows where the water bottle is.
The water bottle is a metaphor, so trust yourself.
The next time that someone talks about cutting arts education, ask them if these are the sorts of things that they want their kids to learn. Ask them if they want their kids to be brave, open-hearted and willing to take risks.
If they say yes, then they want their kids to be Clowns.
May the Force be With You.
Come see Jessy and her BFA classmates in a clown show at Corner Stage in the FAB gallery from Nov 26-30. The Grand Cacophony previews on Nov 26 and Nov 27, with shows running from November 28-30. All of the shows start at 7:30 and tickets are by donation.